Sarasota County commissioners took time out from talks about the Siesta Key beach renovation Dec. 11, to explain the 800-megahertz system that connects emergency agencies’ communications.
Funding for the estimated $22 million to $30 million emergency system upgrade comes from the penny sales tax, which is the same source of revenue for the beach project.
The county also plans to spend more than $10 million on a new emergency operations center and has $7.5 million programmed for a GPS-linked traffic light management system.
The Siesta Key Association now has insight from two of its members into how emergency operations funding will be spent.
Association board member Ron Flynn, who spent nearly 30 years as a manager with AT&T and six years as a U.S Army senior communications specialist, gave an analysis and recommendations for the county project during SKA’s Dec. 6 meeting.
Flynn, who serves as the island’s representative on a committee advising the project, said one of his concerns was that the hardware chosen for the project isn’t strictly proprietary, so if radio brands chosen by different emergency agencies don’t match, they can still connect through the system.
Also, Flynn recommends emergency personnel use a smart radio with built-in GPS.
The 800-megahertz upgrade is in its infancy, but this year county staff has repeatedly reminded commissioners about its urgency. And, during a Dec. 11 meeting, Steve Botelho, county director of finance, explained that it could be expedited through borrowing against surtax dollars.
SKA member Bob Luckner also took on a role as an at-large member of the Sarasota County Fire-Rescue and Emergency Management Advisory Board.
Funding for emergency services makes up roughly 10% of the county’s adopted budget and has grown steadily from $78 million in 2010, to about $82 million in the 2013 fiscal year.
But, emergency supplies, such as pre-filled syringes, have outpaced the budget due to tightening regulations, Luckner said during the meeting.
Luckner, who holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, said he will be offering recommendations on similar issues. He highlighted a major capital project to upgrade more than 160 intersections with an advanced traffic management system that emergency personnel can use to manipulate traffic lights.
Emergency staff was able to drive the length of Clark Road at 55 miles per hour with assistance from the pilot program of the system, Luckner explained.
Despite his at-large status, Luckner said he would represent Siesta’s interests as a member of the Emergency Management Advisory Board.